What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a hotel? Do you imagine an Instagram-perfect breakfast in bed delivered by a room service attendant wearing white gloves? Plush beds that you sink into and luxurious toiletries as pictured on hotel websites? Long evenings with your significant other enjoying a glass of wine by a fireplace in the lobby? Or maybe enjoying the single life at the seemingly always lively hotel bar? If all of the above sound extremely appealing to you, what if someone told you they were living at a hotel? I am sure your first reaction would be... "oh, that sounds fabulous!"
I've spent a total of 196 nights in 85 different hotels around the world, mostly from Starwood and Marriott, over the past year and a half. If you pause and think about that for a second, that equates to six continuous months staying at hotels. It sounds exactly like Ryan Bingham's life, played by American actor George Clooney in the 2009 movie "Up in The Air." You would probably think I carry a stack of frequent traveler membership cards, and I have an entourage of people catering to my every need.
While many of the things you've imagined so far in reading these two paragraphs can be true to what a frequent traveler's lifestyle looks like, there are many things that people from the outside looking in don't realize:
1. There is a huge difference between vacationing and business travel
Business travel is all about efficiency. You need to quickly get to your destination, cram as many meetings as possible while there, reply to e-mails when you get back to the hotel, and eventually find time to exercise and sleep. If you're wondering whether the order of the factors matters in this equation, the answer is yes. On the other hand, when you vacation, its all about the journey or the 'experience' as some call it. Time seems not to matter so much, and every activity must bring you a step closer to total bliss and relaxation. After all, we vacation to get away and disconnect.
2. You depend on everyone for everything
Thinking about the needs described earlier for business travel, it can be difficult to accept that in a hotel you depend on others for basically everything -- something especially difficult for control freaks or people that like to do things themselves. Because of this dependency, you must rely on communication to get others to understand your needs, and that is when things can go awry. Depending on what part of the world you're in, you will struggle in getting what you want. Even in english-speaking countries, hotel staff doesn't necessarily interpret things the same way you would, in the US for example. On top of that, most staff themselves may be from other countries, so they will each have different interpretations as well. I particularly think this can be solved with technology, but for now, you have to accept that things will go wrong from time to time, and it never hurts to ask others to repeat back what you said to ensure they properly understood what you want.
3. You will become more demanding and easily lose your temper
The more hotels you visit, the more your expectations will increase, especially if you've had exceptionally good experiences. You will expect that the next hotel will do things the same way than in the hotel you were at previously, or, you will feel compelled to "show" the hotel how to do things better because of a better experience you had somewhere else. The higher the price you're paying and the higher your loyalty status is, has a direct relationship with your level of expectations, and an inverse relationship with your level of patience. Say you are staying in a 5-star hotel and paying a lot of money (regardless of whether its your money or your company's money), your expectations will become sky high, and your patience will become minimal. It becomes worse if the hotel has built a reputation around stellar service and/or products, and say you run into an issue there. Your expectations will literally shatter in front of you in a matter of seconds, and you can easily set yourself up for a downward spiral after that. This is why I think hotel reviews and marketing content can be a form of magical realism, often times creating unrealistic expectations.
4. Staff will either hate you, or love you
Depending on how you handle yourself in the scenarios described above, hotel staff will either love you or hate you, there is no in-between. This is more evident in business travel scenarios because of all the pressure and stressors described further above, and less evident in a vacation scenario, unless you're celebrating a milestone such as an anniversary or honeymoon. In India, for example, the hotel will bend over backwards to make you happy, and the people really find a way to win your heart, no matter how bad the situation may be. In the UK, the hotel will make the bare minimum effort required to fix a problem, and will push back if you insist: "sorry sir, its hotel policy" is a common phrase you will find. Also, UK staff will make no effort to apologize, and if they do, it will be totally fake just to get you off their backs. In the US, you may get a mix of both, but staff tends to be extremely efficient, something that other cultures might interpret as being rude. In the modern middle east, hotels will always treat you as if you were a dignitary, and things will be typically very formal. In short, depending on which part of the world you are in, you will get different reactions.
5. It can be very expensive
Its no surprise that food, beverages, and laundry can be ridiculously expensive at most hotels. You will always be better off eating out, finding a place to do your own laundry, and bring back a few groceries if your hotel has a mini-fridge. Something I've done to circumvent this has been to look for freshly packaged meal services such as DietToGo, myFitFoods, or even Whole Foods. I always buy my own water unless its free. I once stayed at an Element hotel, which actually had a water filter in each room. Another time, I stayed at a Marriott in California that had a Natura Water System in the club lounge -- unlimited free sparkling and cold water!
6. It can become boring and monotonous
After a while, especially in business travel scenarios that call for extended stays in one place, you will get bored. You might have already tried every item on the menu, and visited most restaurants close by. If you wake up one day and want to try something different for breakfast, you don't have the luxury to do things yourself. Then it becomes a matter of whether its worth the effort in explaining to the staff what you want, or just grabbing whatever is displayed at the breakfast buffet. You eventually tend to gravitate more towards the latter, especially if you had several instances where the hotel staff wasn't able to deliver what you wanted.
7. You can lose your privacy
After a few days in the same hotel, most staff will get to know you, and already have made a decision on whether to hate you or love you. You are no longer invisible, and if you had a problem with one area of the hotel, everyone else will probably know the next day. Staff will have routine questions, as if from a script: where are you from? why are you here? how long are you staying? is this your first time here? and so on. Eventually that information will end up in some database so that others can use that to anticipate your needs, especially if staying at a higher-end hotel. Some hotels go to the extent of researching you on social media, combining the information they may get from your loyalty program, to build a better profile of who you are in an effort to provide you with more personalized service. As hotels move more into a digital and connected era, even the thermostat in your room will know who you are, and adjust itself to your preferences before you check in. Inevitably, some will view this with a positive lens, and others will become concerned.
8. You can get a lot of value out of loyalty programs
Many hotel chains are placing their bets on customer loyalty and how they can find new ways to add more value to your stay, in an effort to retain your business. This is an area where technology can play a key role in bringing together data to understand patterns and better target customers - some refer to this concept as Customer Genome. As a customer, if you spend time to deeply understand your loyalty programs, you can create strategies to maximize the value of your hotel stays. There are countless websites out there that provide advice on everything from 'mattress runs' - checking into multiple hotels for the sole purpose of attaining elite status - to which credit cards to use when, all in an effort to get as many points and perks as possible. It will be interesting to see how these hacking strategies change as technology evolves.
So, there you have it, not always as fabulous and glamorous as some may think. I encourage you to share your experiences in the comments section below.